DNA analysis has recently established that the original Damask roses evolved as the result of a natural double crossing of three species, i.e. a hybrid produced by crossing R. gallica with R. moschata (‘The Musk Rose’) crossed again with R. fedtschenkoana. This hybridisation must have taken place in cultivation – probably in Central Asia – since the natural habitat of these three species does not overlap.
Damask roses made their way to Europe through the Middle East via Damascus (hence Damask) during the early Middle Ages. They are especially valued for their natural oils, which have been used for centuries in the production of attar of roses.
A form of Damask rose was first noted in Italy in the 16th century which flowered more than once. Until the arrival in Europe of roses from the Far East, in the 18th century, the ‘Autumn Damask’ was the only rose to exhibit this repeat-flowering characteristic. The French called it ‘Quatre Saisons’ (‘Four Seasons’), and the Italians – even more optimistically – ‘La Rosa di Ogni Mese’ (‘The Monthly Rose’). In England it is known as the ‘Autumn Damask’ (Rosa damascena bifera – twice flowering). It is one of the parents of both the original Portland (c.1770) and Bourbon (c.1815) roses.